Bar Conference 2011: barristers ‘ready to strike’ over tendering plan

first_imgCriminal barristers will take ‘direct action’ – including withdrawing their services – if the government presses ahead with its plans for price-competitive tendering, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association has warned. Max Hill QC (pictured) said that the proposal to introduce best value tendering for the provision of publicly funded services will spell the ‘end of the bar’.Hill told the Bar Council’s annual conference on Saturday that ‘price competition is anathema to an independent, high-quality bar’, and that it would mark an end to a quality service and the notion of equality of arms.The introduction of price competition and the retention of an independent bar are ‘mutually exclusive’, he said. ‘Bartering over the unit price of new start cases, the stock-in-trade of price competition or best value tendering as they call it, will inevitably benefit large and experienced firms of litigators.’The government is in ‘cloud cuckoo land’ if it thinks the system would present a level playing field on which the bar can compete. ‘Price competition is nothing short of an order that the bar disband and go into business with solicitors. Call it fusion, call it partnership, call it what you like. It is the end of the bar,’ he said. Hill said the government had ‘no business dismantling the bar at this time’, and warned: ‘Criminal barristers are neither paper lawyers nor paper tigers. We have taken legal advice. The myth that we cannot take proportionate direct action is just that – a myth.’He warned that proceeding with BVT and the introduction of one case, one fee, would put the criminal bar on a ‘collision course’ with the government that would result in ‘confrontation and ultimately direct action by a beleaguered criminal bar which has had enough’.He said barristers are prepared to ‘act on principle, to safeguard the public interest which is served by an independent bar of specialist advocates’, adding: ‘If government pushes forward to force the independent bar to become employed solicitor-advocates in the name of price competition, I say we can and must stand up and act.’ He posed the question: ‘What if we all just stopped one Monday morning?’Responding, attorney general Dominic Grieve QC indicated sympathy with the bar’s arguments. ‘There is an awareness and keen understanding that it is not just a professional bleat by criminal barristers.’ He added: ‘If you have a good point to make, don’t give up making it.’However, Grieve told the Gazette the government intends to move ahead with BVT, but said it is listening ­carefully to the points the bar is raising.A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said the government would be setting out its plans for BVT before the end of the year.last_img